Cross-functional agents – agents responsible for handling more than one class of business transaction in a contact center – are valuable in many situations. Many contact centers serve an incredible breadth of subject matter and customer types, and sometimes certain requests are too rare to warrant full-time staff. Cross-training agents allows higher utilization and more flexibility with staff forecasting. However, context switching creates inefficiency and the potential for poor customer service.

Having all types of calls blindly route to the same pool of agents is inefficient, and irritating. It’s inefficient simply because it takes time for the agent to determine the reason for the call. It’s Irritating to the customer because it wastes their time, and irritating to agents because they’re constantly switching their context with each type of customer.

Context switching is risky, too. In some businesses, there could be legal ramifications for providing the wrong type of information to the wrong type of customer. For example, a Medical Information Contact Center has to deal with both Health Care Providers (HCPs) and regular old consumers with no medical training, and they must (by law!) treat these groups differently.

The question is how to facilitate the agent in his/her preparation for the next call. We do not want the agent to be burdened with discovering what the next call is about while the conversation with the customer has already started.

Here are some of our recommendations:

  • 800 numbers are not particularly expensive. Create a direct number for distinct products and/or customer types. Multiple numbers can land on the same phone switch, and ACDs can be set up in a manner that when the calls come in, the agent will know what product the consumer is calling about based on the number they called (DNIS routing).
  • Take the idea above a step further and use a screenpop or whisper to signal the agent about who is calling and why. CTI can allow the customers identify themselves in an automated IVR system and display as much context to the agent as you capture in your CRM. Cross-functional agents are often unavoidable, so at least give them a chance to avoid surprise when handling a multitude of caller types.
  • Use a BPMS to manage customer interactions. A business process management system pre-defines business rules for transactions. If you can take decisions out of the agents’ hands, you minimize the risk of sending the customer down a path they are not supposed to be on.

Again, the key is to streamline communication wherever possible. Don’t leave your valuable cross-functional agents in the dark by failing to equip them with the proper information.